Female mining engineers from UP have worked in exciting positions at prominent South African mining companies, as well as in countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United States. They are doing fascinating work in mine management, mine planning, efficient production and financial management, mine safety, employee engagement and legal compliance in the mining sector. Their degrees from UP have prepared them for success through the development of technical, soft and logical thinking skills, as well as exposure to real-life industry issues and connections.
This Women’s Month, we celebrate the remarkable women who are making an impact in their workplace and in society. One such woman is Nozipho Dlamini, a successful alumna of UP’s Department of Mining Engineering.
Nozipho was born in Bethal, Mpumalanga, but grew up and went to school in Soweto. She was drawn to technical subjects at school because they opened more opportunities for future studies. A family member was a geologist, and Nozipho found this very interesting, so she was drawn to the mines. She came to the University of Pretoria to study Mining Engineering, and then did an honours and a master’s degree in Technology Management.
She is a Technical Services Manager at one of South Africa’s most productive underground coal mines, Anglo American’s Greenside Colliery, where she leads a large team of technical experts, comprising mining engineers, geologists, rock engineers, environmentalists, surveyors and business improvement specialists. A typical day starts by catching up with her team members and setting short-term and mid-term goals. The rest of the day is spent in meetings, solving problems and devising strategies on specific issues that need to be focused on. At the end of the day, she does a reconciliation of all the work that has been done, closing off all outstanding actions and getting ready for upcoming tasks and events.
What she loves most about her job is the fact that it is so dynamic. Every day is unique. “Mining is one of those industries where one wishes for longer days because one sees most of the results of one’s efforts instantly,” she says. “I enjoy leading a team of technical specialists and seeing the synergy between them and how they can best support the mine. I also enjoy stretching their mindsets and getting them to think outside the box.”
When considering the challenges that are faced in the industry, she admits that the mines struggle to retain female talent in core technical roles. She thinks that the coal industry specifically has made significant progress in this regard, and conditions for women have improved over the years. “However,” she says, “because working at a mine requires one’s full commitment and long hours (even when one is not at work, one is still in contact with the mine), women who have left the industry have done so to spend more time with their families or have taken on roles that give them more flexibility. So, there is a lot of work to be done in that space.” She is very excited about the impact of technology on mining. “Automation and mechanisation have done a lot to ensure that the more labour-intensive aspects are addressed, and digitalisation and advanced process controls will take us to the next level and allow for more flexible work schedules,” she says.
“Coal mining is being challenged by emerging community issues, environmental issues and reduced investment,” Nozipho explains. “Keeping a coal mine sustainable, profitable and in harmony with our surrounding environments is an interesting challenge, which keeps me motivated. We constantly need to think outside the box and improve productivity and sustainability in a challenging environment. Working with a team and ensuring that I can create an environment for them to be creative, and constantly finding solutions to challenges is what keeps me going.”
Looking back at her time at UP, she believes that Tuks Mining teaches its students professionalism by taking them on industry visits and teaching them how to present themselves. It also teaches them the importance of collaboration through groupwork. Students are exposed to working with people from different backgrounds. “This is critical when one starts working in industry,” she says, “as mining is a multidisciplinary field, and one needs to be able to get on well with people.”
Nozipho is a role model to other young women, and she was invited to address the final-year students at the annual Leadership Week, which forms part of the Department’s Mining Engineering Leadership Academy. She shared her career experience and lessons learned with the students. Her advice to young women is that they need to invest a lot of hours and sweat in their careers when they start working. Although this comes with sacrifices to one’s personal life, these sacrifices are necessary to accelerate one’s learning and exposure.
She had to build a solid technical background, which has given her credibility and flexibility in her career. She advises women to take on roles where they can learn, and that they should work on growing their experience. This is important when one starts taking on more senior roles and managing bigger teams. “My advice to upcoming young women entering the industry is to put in the work, sweat and hours. It will help build a solid knowledge and experience base.”